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      Acts of Contrition
    Faith and frailty

    A priest's lapse leads to a strongly emotional exploration of human weakness vs. divine perfection in "Acts of Contrition."


    "I gave my life to God. God was supposed to protect me." The statement — wrenchingly delivered — forms the emotional bare-all of a play about the Catholic priesthood. It's true; the speaker, a priest with exceptional promise, delivers his life's mission with as much conscientiousness as a priest can have — when he's human. Then he acts on a lifelong impulse, and finds himself poised for an abrupt and painful fall.

    Written by: Timothy Nolan.
    Directed by: Vincent Marano.
    Cast: Shiek Mahmud-Bey, Gene Fanning.
    Play Room
    440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

    "Acts of Contrition," written and directed by Timothy Nolan at the 2003 Fringe Festival, has earned its kudos, unfolding beautifully and with substantial complexity into the human side of an incendiary problem. The play is both smart and reverent enough to interweave the gorgeous rituals of Catholicism with the casual, beach-house setting (only false moment: when a priest tucks his discarded vestments under the lid of the barbeque grill).

    Much ado has been made about Shiek Mahmud-Bey's role as conflicted priest Stephen, and his tear-stained performance last Tuesday — which grew more assured as the level of emotion rose — earned it. Gene Fanning excels as the nuanced cardinal whose leadership is at cross-purposes with divinity. And Steven's two close friends from seminary — who eventually receive Steven's guilt-soaked confession — sustain interest as upstanding specimens who are in somewhat reduced positions in the clergy (one is a high school teacher).

    To Nolan's credit, "Acts" acknowledges that the issue is one of human frailty in a divine context, making the plot largely beside the point. The ending — which lets you draw your own conclusions — is the delicious sort of thought awakening that can rouse you out of sleep in a cold sweat. The only problem with the play — for an admitted atheist — is the idea that nobody, not even a talented, dedicated priest, has a vested right to anything. Divine protection — if it's a fair trade-off for a life of devotion — should come with a "good only" warning, as in "good only when the bargainer harbors no expectations about what divine protection is going to look like."

    AUGUST 26, 2003

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  • Script   from Todd, Aug 15, 2004

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